Friday, February 10, 2017

Los Angeles Weather and Climate

I was so shocked when I read this, it took me a while to figure out how to respond. I choose #sciencenotsilence.

 While I am aware that I have political differences with this sewing blogger, I had been prepared to look at our commonalities instead of our differences. I even took her on a tour of the Olmstead District in Old Town Torrance and introduced her to Momen+ fabric.

I'm not going to link to her blog, because that would drive up the reputation ranking of these #fakefacts. I'm just going to share a screen capture so you can see what I am talking about.

Deep breath here.  I read her blog because she is an extremely prolific and skilled sewer, knitter and photographer.  She is highly competent in her areas of expertise.  I read her blog so I can learn and be inspired.

I don't want to hurt her feelings, but I cannot let lies go unchallenged.

My blog is not glossy and professional.  I do not sew prolifically.  I sew and blog late at night.  I take photos with my phone or a compact point and shoot--often with poor lighting.  Why should you believe me and not her?

I work as a data specialist at one of the world's premier weather and climate data archives.  Prior to this, I earned a BA in Mathematics and a BS in Chemistry.  Then I earned a PhD writing models to compare theory with precision physical measurements.   The expertise I developed led to a job in an Air Force research lab running weather models and performing weather satellite Cal/Val (calibration and validation.)  I have also run climate models, but only at an introductory classroom level.  I eventually landed in my current position.   I am working in my third national lab.

I could earn much more money using my math, statistics and computer skills to spy on your web behavior to influence you to buy stuff you don't need.  Instead, I'm busy trying to preserve the best quality data available for future generations.

I am proud to be part of the global weather and climate enterprise.  It takes a huge amount of international cooperation to study our planet for our common safety and good.  I would never take part in an international conspiracy to lie to everyone.   It's absolutely ludicrous.

The reason that scientists are so alarmed about global warming is because it is a threat to all life on earth.  We're all going to fry together unless we work together to change our behavior.

So let's unpack the statements:
I don't believe in global warming
Neil deGrasse Tyson said, "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."  He's right in that the planet is frying whether or not you believe in it.  But it's not a good thing.
or climate change or whatever they are calling it these days.
Don't blame the scientists. Blame the political appointees in the Bush 43 administration that forbade federal scientists from using the term, "global warming." Our scientific findings and reports were even scrubbed by fresh out of college political science majors with no science expertise whatsoever but fantastic partisan bona fides. But that is another rant.

The Obama administration did not renew that rule and some scientists drifted back to using global warming, while others use climate change. The planet does not warm uniformly, so there are good reasons to use CC when referring to some effects.
To me, it’s all weather, in some ways it’s predictable, in others it’s not.
This sows confusion.  "Oh, well.  We don't know for sure so let's ignore it."  No, we cannot ignore it and it is not confusing at all.

Actually, weather and climate are different things to scientists. The simplest definition is "Weather is what you get; climate is what you expect."

Edward N Lorenz wrote a classic explanation.

Weather is on a short time-scale and we are really good at predicting it. In fact, a 10-day forecast today is as accurate as a 3-day forecast was 20 years ago. I've written about Verification Statistics for my work blog. Weather verification is ongoing and published openly on the web. We got nothing to hide.

Climate models are similar and also very different from weather models. They have all the same physical models of how air, water and trace gases behave. But, they also vary in their external forcings (e.g. sun) and boundary conditions. Both types require millions of lines of computer code.

Early weather and climate models were not so good but both experienced continual improvement. Weather models are easier to verify and improve because of their short time-scale. I'm not going to live to see the verification statistics of 2100 climate simulations.  I'm going to have to trust that, because climate models verify well with the past, they will preform similarly well in the future.
What has been happening these last few years in California is predictable and following a pattern.
I don't know what she means by this. Is she referring to the El Nino/La Nina cycle that reverses every year of two? Or is she referring to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a similar warm/cool ocean pattern that occurs on much longer timescales?

When the cool phase of the PDO lines up with La Nina, rainfall plummets in southern California.  We expected a few very dry years and we got them.  We got a longer dry spell than we were expecting and there is much research about why that occurred.  Overall, scientists were less surprised than the media.  I don't know if you can blame the scientists or the professional weather communicators who are hired more for ratings rather than scientific accuracy.

This next paragraph took me a long time to unpack.
Simply put, we get rain in the winter, then we get a few years of drought, we always have fires, but at some point, we have massive fires all over the state. The following winter we will have an abundance of rain and snow, then come the mudslides. Maybe back to regular rain for a while and then the cycle repeats.
Have you studied rhetorical devices? It's useful to understand how people try to persuade you, even when the facts aren't clear.

Consider the false dilemma. They set up an either or situation. If A is right, then B is wrong. But the fancy talk obscures that there is no real logical connection between A and B.

Yes, California's normally dry summers would qualify as a drought practically anywhere else. That's just our climate. Fire is a perpetual hazard in the American west. Burned areas are prone to mudslides the following winter. All that is true.

Just because weather and seasons are cyclical does not mean that the climate is not changing.

2016 was the hottest year globally in modern history.  Higher temperatures cause more water to evaporate both directly and indirectly through evapotranspiration of plants.  Even with the same amount of water, high temperatures will create drier and more combustible forests.  We are already seeing this.  The fire season is starting earlier and ending later.  We are experiencing wildfires in January!

Just because it rains in the winter, does not mean that our climate is not changing.  No one is saying that climate change = no seasons.  In fact, we expect more weather extremes in both precipitation and temperatures.  That is exactly what we are experiencing.

The Sierra snowpack is a complex and highly alarming subject that deserves its own post at a later date.

Next, I plan another post about kettle logic and how it is weaponized to confuse people about science.

I haven't sewn anything since early December so I might as well blog about science.  #resist

Burda 6919 for my daughter was a success.


  1. Yay!!!! Thank you! I don't have any scientific training per se, but I have a good mind, I read a LOT, plus I'm an avid gardener for about 20 years now. I know the climate is changing for the worse, and I know that humans have caused this.Thank you so much for championing truth. It seems so rare these days. Will share this on Facebook too. Many, many more people need to read this post I think.

    1. Thanks. Do share broadly as we need to fight back against fake facts. It took the science community a long time to catch on to the fact that others have been waging a concerted war against us. We are still learning how to fight.

  2. Please educate me. I'm not a scientist and I do believe the earth's temperature is warming. What I don't understand is how we can change it. The Earth is moving closer to the sun, isn't it? We can't stop the movement of the Earth. How are the inhabitants of Earth causing this and how do we stop it? Or how do we change the weather? I am very sincere in my question. I am not being facetious.

    1. No, we are not moving closer to the sun. The earth's orbit and tilt explain a majority of the past climate. Orbits are extremely easy to predict and we know that our current orbit/tilt:
      1. The northern hemisphere (NH) is closest to the sun during our winters and further away in the summer. This moderates the NH seasonal differences. This is good for humans so there is a reason why civilization flourished now and not some other time.
      2. Our orbit/tilt in the last 20,000 yrs would lead us to expect an extremely stable climate, which is good for civilization (stable coastlines for port cities) and is what we experienced until the dawn of the industrial age.
      3. Accounting for orbit/tilt and sun activity, we should be moving slowly into an ice age. Instead, we are seeing an extremely rapid rise of temperatures. The only physical reason that can account for this is the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The physics and models agree. We are the cause of this by pumping so much CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the air.

    2. Thank you for the explanation and education. :) But what can we, as individuals, do to prevent global warming? We are only one country and not everyone believes this is a crisis. Other countries probably don't accept the premise at all.

    3. The only thing we can do is to stop pumping so much carbon in the air. The two largest carbon-producing activities that we control are transportation and food.

      We need to reduce our carbon output by about 2/3.

      So drive less, a lot less. Ride a bike or walk. If you can't do that; carpool, take public transit or drive a much more fuel efficient car.

      About 30-40% of food produced in the US is wasted. So, if we get more efficient, we can reduce 1/3 right there. The other 1/3 reduction is easy if we reduce the amount of meat we eat.

      Reduce the amount that we travel. I have to fly between LA and CO every month, so I reduce the amount I drive and the amount of meat I eat to offset that.

      Water is heavy. Moving it around consumes about 25% of the electricity used in CA. So use less water.

      We know what we have to do and it's not drastic.

    4. I appreciate all you've said. You describe the life I've led for the past 30 years. 30 years ago I rode my bicycle everywhere. I have a car purchased new in 2009 with about 20,000 miles on it. We have a garden and grow our own vegetables - in the desert that takes water. Also I mostly only drink water so that isn't going to change. Although since November, I have been drinking more margaritas than I used to.;) We don't water a lawn in the summer in order to save the huge amounts of water that would be lost to evaporation. We eat meat only 3 or 4 times a week. Not sure I can do much more except recycle waste water. We might work that out eventually. We've lived like this for 30 years and raised our children like this. But we are a small family. Not sure that we've made a difference. Thanks for all your replies.

    5. I meant to add, don't be so hard on your blogger friend. Perhaps she has also done what she could and doesn't see that it has mattered.

    6. I've recently started to feel a bit like Linda as well--I try to make good choices (don't drive much, am conscious about eating meat, installed solar panels, don't have a lawn, etc). A lot of these choices are only available to me because I'm pretty wealthy and can live where I want and buy whatever food I want. But as I get older i feel like my personal choices matter less than government-level choices such as whether or not to build public transit or walkable neighborhoods. And since I've had kids, losing sleep so that I can bike instead of drive is more difficult for me. I still try to do these things, but I'm more resentful of politically powerful groups that make it more difficult for me ( and others, who might not have as big a time and money budget as me ) to lower our carbon emissions.

      From reading your other posts, I don't think your advice to me would be "don't have kids" or "quit your job", though I could be mistaken. But I'm more and more coming around to the view that individual choices matter way less than governmental/systemic ones.

    7. Wondering09:07

      How do you calculate how much to offset your driving/meat eating to make up for the flying?

  3. And just so you don't think I'm a complete idiot, I do understand the orbits of the planets, etc. :)

  4. Thank you for writing the way you do on the topics you choose. I find your posts about science thoughtful and helpful.

  5. I'm reading a fantastic book right now called "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America". One of the central premises of the book is that racist ideas in America were created to justify slavery. And slavery persisted because of economic reasons. I feel that there must be something similar at play here. I know the blogger you are referencing, and though I don't agree with her about some things she has posted in the past (her joy at the gentrification of certain areas of the city, for example) I find her to be a thoughtful person in general. I have to conclude that perfectly intelligent people embrace denialism in a way that intelligent people embraced racism. A great way to avoid feeling compelled to question the status quo, to change, to be less comfortable.

  6. Thank you for writing this. How can a reasonably intelligent (I assume because she can apparently operate a computer and a sewing machine) person not believe in climate change?

    I am Canadian, and in the far north of Canada, there are wasps now. There is no word for such insects in the Inuit language because they have never been there before. When I lived in the Yukon in the 90's, -20C was the normal winter temperature, with occasional bouts of -30C to -40C or lower. Now it rarely gets to -40c, and I have seen on the news it has been above 0C this winter. this is frightening. One of the reasons I drive a Smartcar.

    I always feel like my IQ goes up a couple of points after reading your posts. Again, thank you.

  7. Thank you, Grace, for taking on a challenge with your usual clear writing and explanations. I've been gardening for 25 years and have my own experience to back up what scientists have been telling us for years. I have the will to do my part to change this and I encourage others to take it on as well. Heck, even the Pope recognizes the moral imperative.

  8. This is so clear and helpful! Will be sharing this! Thank you!

  9. Thank-you for this explanation.

  10. Thank you for , yet again, another well insightful and reasoned rebuttal. I was never very good at rhetoric in school. I am glad you pointed out food waste. If we don't waste energy to produce, process and ship food that will get wasted there is a savings of carbon emissions. Thanks again for your posts and keep it up! (Please)

    1. I'm not ignoring you. I'll write a longer post about that when I have more time.


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